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What Exactly Is Postpartum Depression?

Learn what postpartum depression is and why all child-bearing women should know about it.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD,

Today I want to talk about a very serious medical condition--postpartum depression.  People often expect the postpartum time period to be a rather happy one; however, it’s important to realize that it’s not always that way. 

What Exactly Is Postpartum Depression?

Every once in a while I have an appointment with a woman who recently had a baby and she breaks down crying at the postpartum visit.  Having a baby is tough.  Us women go through a lot-- we carry this baby that we nurture for nine whole months and turn our lives upside down to accommodate this new bundle of joy, and when the baby arrives, all of a sudden our hormones come to an abrupt halt and we just don’t feel “right.” 

Introducing a new person into our lives is a life-changing event and a big deal.  We may not feel as happy as we think we “should be.” We may not quite understand why we feel this way and might feel guilty about it, but it’s actually quite common. This article will explain why many new mothers may feel “off” and what they can do about it.

What Are the Baby Blues?

There are two common variations of depression that come after giving birth.  A milder form of postpartum depression is called the “baby blues,” and it typically begins within the first two to three days of delivery and resolves within two weeks.  The baby blues is very normal and common.  In fact, four out of five women experience the baby blues, and though the   symptoms may be similar to postpartum depression, they are typically milder.

What About Postpartum Depression?

In contrast, postpartum depression usually persists for more than two weeks, and symptoms are often a tad more severe than in those with the baby blues.  Up to fifteen percent of women experience postpartum depression within the first three months of delivery—making it pretty common as well. 

We don’t really know what causes postpartum depression, but the sudden drop in hormones after childbirth is thought to play a role.  Though women who have suffered from depression in the past may also suffer from postpartum depression, other women with it may have never had a previous episode of depression in their entire lives.

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